A firsthand report from a volunteer at the preschool! Marie is a university student from the United States who spent two months with Yachay Wasi over the summer. She writes:
I worked as a teacher in the 4-5 year old classroom for 8 weeks Monday through Friday 8:30-1:30. We have about 20 students. Usually in the classroom the kids’ normal teacher, Marta, was there also. This gave us a student-to-teacher ratio of 10 or less. During the day I assist with whatever the kids are working on. I play with them in their groups, encouraging them to share and work together, and try to foster a type of learning that really engages their creativity. I lead activities with the kids. I pull the troublemakers aside when they start hitting or kicking, and I generally work to help resolve problems among the kids.
A typical day at the preschool:
At 8:30 I arrive at the jardin. People here all seem to be on Peru time- no one is ever on time for school. Most of the students trickle in 10 or 15 minutes late. It is very dusty outside, so the kids all arrive in tennis shoes and then change into their slippers when they go into the classroom. While we wait for everyone to arrive, the kids, all 4 and 5 years old, sit in a circle and do some kind of activity- tell the other kids what they dreamed about the night before, go around in a circle and ask each person how they are in English, learn how to say what the weather is like in English, etc. We then do the jobs, and appoint someone to be the special helper, the shaker (who shakes a tin can when it’s time to clean up), the lunch maker, the peace maker, and the “tierra de ninos” who takes care of watering the plants in the garden. There are 20 students total in the class, but there are always 3 or 4 absent, so it’s a very manageable group.
Marta is the main teacher in the classroom, and for now I’m assisting her with everything. She is fairly young and from Spain, and taught preschool in Ireland for the past 9 years, so her English is very good. She’s fantastic with the kids. She wants to create a learning environment where the kids do what they enjoy doing, and then we assist them in learning and discovering this way. For example if one of them does a puzzle of the human body, we’ll teach them the names of everything in English. There’s lots of playing and smiles involved, and I think that’s the way it should be.
Next, all the kids go to their tables. We have a teacher at each table, and we ask each student what they want to do that day. Usually responses are something like- “I want to paint flowers and rainbows” or “I want to be a little cat” or “I want to make chicken and rice in ‘la cocinita’ or the ‘little kitchen’”. We always come up with creative ways to do this part- spinning a spoon and whomever the spoon lands on tells what they want to do first, or they all draw a picture of what they want to do and then explain their picture to us, etc.
After this, all the kids go and play for the next hour- there’s always an art table where they paint or color with pastels or cut and glue paper pieces or make things out of clay. They’re very creative. Then there are the kids who play with Diego, the boy who every day, without fail pretends to be a little cat, and they take care of him, or get chased by him, or make him pretend soup. There are the boys who play with cars and tin cans and legos, building things and having races. Then there are kids who do puzzles, or “rompecabezas”.
After this, everyone washes their hands and gets ready for snack. Each kid brings a couple of bananas or apples or pieces of bread, and the kids all share this food for their snack. The student who was appointed as “lunch maker” for the day will help one of the teachers to cut all the fruit.
After snack, we all go outside into the little grassy area between the school buildings and play for a little bit. When its time to stop playing outside, the “special helper” of the day starts a train, and everyone joins the train to come inside. Next we do some kind of creative activity. Marta wants to work on their confidence, so the other day we drew a stage on the floor in chalk, and put on a show. Each kid went up one by one and sang and danced (with a marker as their microphone). Some were too nervous to go up, and of the ones that did go up, almost all of them sang the same song, “Mi nina bonita”. Then there were 3 or 4 boys who went to the “stage” and sang Gasolina, which was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Picture nervous four year olds rapping “A mi me encanta la gasolina, dame mas gasolina” and attempting to dance to it. They were really adorable.
There are also people who come in and do other activities with them. One of the dads comes in every Monday to do recycling activities. There’s really no recycling program in Ollanta, but we save all the paper and plastic trash we have every day in special bins. The dad, Jose, helps them make paper mache out of all the paper scraps, or make little flowers out of cardboard and paint them. Everything turns out really great and the kids love doing it. There’s also a Columbian lady who comes and does “expresiones corporales”, or “body expressions” with the kids. First we wake up all our muscles, and each of us rings a special bell to wake up our hearts. The past few weeks she’s set up a sort of obstacle course for them to do, which of course is fun for any kid. It takes a certain kind of person to maintain the attention of these kids for such a long time, but she just does a great job with them.
By the time all this is finished, it’s 1:00 and the parents are arriving to pick up their kids. The teachers stick around to clean up the classroom and wash the dishes from snack, and then I head home around 1:30. Luckily in the last couple weeks, they hired a woman to come and clean the classrooms and wash the dishes, so we didn’t have to do that anymore.
I really loved working at the preschool. At the beginning, I felt like my skills could be better utilized in a formalized English teaching environment, but by the end I really ended up loving where I was placed, and wouldn’t have wanted to be somewhere different. I got pretty attached to many of the children. At the end of my time there, another volunteer and I had the job of teaching the class just the two of us, and by then the students really respected me, and I enjoyed the work a lot. It takes a certain type of person to work with all those kids, constantly yelling “profe profe” and tattling on the other children, but I handled it well and enjoyed it. On the last day I was smothered in hugs and given a really sweet book of drawings the kids had done for me, and notes they wrote to me, and it’s one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received. It was a very rewarding experience. Guille, who runs the preschool, and Marta, the 4-5 year olds’ teacher, were both fantastic to work with. I really liked both of them, and really everyone who worked at the preschool.
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